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Growing up in New England I have developed a very dysfunctional relationship with the winter. I try to love it, I really do.

I annually embrace the changing colors of fall, the first flake of snow, the smell of firewood burning from neighborhood chimneys, the quiet crunching sound of snow beneath faux-furry boots…but alas, the novelty always wears off.  As soon as the thermostat drops below 32 degrees, I am left scurrying around outdoors, in a suffocating amount of layers of long underwear, squeezing my chin to my chest to protect my neck from wind chill, mumbling under my breath to no one else but myself, that “I’m so cold…”…channeling Kate Winslet in the last scene in Titanic…”never let go, Jack….”

This is exactly how I feel...all the time...in Boston in the winter...

The one thing that does not lose its novelty in the winter months however, is the comforting warmth of a hearty winter soup. I pretty much turn into a soup-ivore as soon as it drops below 50 degrees.  Consequently, have found some fantastic recipes for soups that I would love to share with you all.

First up is a new discovery from Better Homes and Gardens website: bettertv.com…there’s even a video. The recipe is for an extremely simple, easy, and DELICIOUS butternut squash soup.

Butternut Squash is one of my favorite foods to eat in the fall and winter and so easy to find locally. Plus with the scent of cinnamon and nutmeg mulling in your kitchen….mmmm

I am a cinnamon fiend in the fall/winter...I added extra sticks for this recipe!

I’ve made it a few times now, the second time I added an extra cinnamon stick, low sodium Organic Chicken broth, some nutmeg, some ground cloves and  substituted the sugar for Splenda’s Brown sugar blend. It was a healthier version that got rave reviews…So here is My healthier version of BetterTv.com’s ….

Butternut Squash Soup:

Ingredients:

 

2 larger butternut squash, halved and seeded

3 tablespoons of Olive Oil

1 large onion, sliced

3 tablespoons minced fresh ginger

1 1/2 tablespoons of Splenda brown Sugar Blend

3 large garlic cloves chopped

2 cinnamon sticks

1 1/2 tsp. nutmeg

1 tsp. of ground cloves

5 cups of Low-sodium Organic Chicken Broth

I love using Pacific Foods Organic free range low sodium chicken broth...so delish...available at most supermarkets

**(1 container of chicken broth is about 4 cups, so instead of opening another, I substituted that last cup for 1 chicken bullion cube with 1 cup hot water)

Directions:

1. Oil a large baking sheet; bake squash, cut side down, for 1 hour at 375 F.

2. Remove peel from squash and discard and cut of the squash a bit. It should be pretty soft and malleable already so just cut into chunks.

3. In a large pot, heat oil and add onion.

4, Add ginger, brown sugar, garlic,  cinnamon stick, nutmeg, and cloves. Cover and cook 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent.

4. Add squash and chicken broth; bring to boil and then reduce heat and simmer another 10 minutes.

5. Discard cinnamon stick.

6. Add a few cups of your mixture to a blender and puree until a funnel appears at the top. Pour pureed soup into large bowl, add more mixture to blender, puree again, and so on. Serve with a little chopped parsley or creme fraiche, if desired.

**I served this with warm french onion bread with a tiny bit of homemade maple butter on it. It’s kind of like having desert with your entree…

***You can also experiment by adding apples, apple cider and sage to this recipe…just play around!

I improvised the maple butter:

For the maple butter:

1. Heat 1/2 cup of real Organic maple syrup on the stove in a heavy bottom saucepan until boiling.

2. Add in 1 1/2 sticks of butter, let melt, then wisk vigorously for 2 minutes.

3. Pour into a glass container and place in the freezer until solidified.

Spread a tiny bit on the bread and dip into the soup…mmmm

For a Butternut- Pumpkin Soup that’s to die for…

—-> You can also take this above soup recipe and Add in a can of packed pumpkin, then toast some pumpkin seeds to garnish!

My favorite Butternut/Squash soup experiences have been highly memorable.

Moment 1: Cocoa Wah Wah, Cape Town: A delicious Cape Malay spiced butternut Squash soup at Cocoa Wah Wah in Cape Town South Africa. South Africans LOVE their butternut, and their soups are spiced with perfection. There was nothing better on a rainy, windy June winter’s day in Cape town.

I would scuttle down the hill from school to study at this adorable free wifi cafe in Rondebosch, and order a Butternut Soup with a Rooibos tea garnished with a fresh slice of lemon and fresh grated ginger…mmmm. By the end of the semester they knew what I wanted when they saw me coming…

Cocoa Wah Wah in Cape Town

Moment 2. Teatro, Boston: The other week, a friend of mine and I were searching for a quick bite before a movie at Loew’s On the Common in Boston. It was sooo chilly and the wind blew us right in to Teatro. The decor was warm, romantic, inviting, the place was packed for a Sunday evening, and the waiter was very responsive to the fact that we were in a rush to see a movie. We looked down at the well thought out theater-goer italian menu and saw a “Sugar Pumpkin Zuppa with Maple Creme Fraiche” and immediately we knew we needed it. BEST IDEA EVER. Although it’s not butternut, I had to post it. So so so good! A Must TASTE this winter!

Moment 3: The Fireplace, Brookline, MA: Chef Jim Solomon has been known to have the best butternut bisque around town at the classic New England restaurant, The Fireplace, but I needed to see for myself. It  was SOOO good! Sipping Butternut Bisque next to a fireplace in the restaurant also may have added to the comfort-food factor…

The Fireplace Restaurant in Brookline, MA

Now that the holidays are approaching, many of us do not have the luxury of time to make soups from scratch so I found a few store bought substitutes, that, with a little bit of extra spicing, taste like homemade magic…I have tried a LOT of canned soups, and I mean A LOT and these are my two faves!

1. Pacific Foods: I have fallen in love with Pacific Foods line of products, especially their soups. All organic, free range, low sodium, etc. And SOOOOO delicious. I also love that you can buy bigger containers of pre-made soups (to avoid wasting packaging materials), pour as much as you want, then store the rest in the fridge. No can-openers! The soups taste incredibly fresh and are perfectly flavored. Also it’s super healthy with no unnecessary added fat or sugar.

2. Campbell’s V8 Golden Butternut Squash Soup is also a super healthy alternative to homemade soup. However, it is a little less sustainable than  Pacific Food’s products.

Now Manga!

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Mmm My Aunt Linda's Super Healthy POWER muffins allow the whole famly to power through the day!

Mmm My Aunt Linda's Super Healthy POWER muffins allow the whole family to power through the day!

How do you make a healthy muffin that doesn’t taste like cardboard? Ask a Freyer…

To keep with the family theme of this week, I want to showcase another talent in my family…cooking. Cooking is also an extraordinary talent honed by the women in my family, and mostly all of our bonding happens over a good solid meal.

My Aunt Marina was a gourmet food stylist, while my mother has brought her Italian roots into modern cooking.

My Aunt Linda, is also a fantastic cook in the health food arena. She has mastered cooking for specific diets…Heidi is a vegetarian and gluten and lactose intolerant, while the boys in the family scoff at anything that looks “healthy”.

To satisfy the tastes of her family and yet keep them healthy, she has perfected a slew of recipes for all meals and has become a muffin master.

Every morning, at the crack of dawn, my aunt will make a fresh batch of the healthiest, tastiest POWER MUFFINS that even the anti-health-food boys in the family can’t live without.

yummmmm

yummmmm

Just the smell of them in the mornings draws you down to the kitchen to their tastiness.

After becoming instantly addicted to these morning treats that kept me energized all day, I begged her for the recipe. Every muffin is made as healthy as can be, with all natural sugar substitutes and extra whole grain everything. She says she makes different ones each day and experiments constantly….

Try Truvia as a natural sugar substitute instead of Sugar or the synthetic Splenda...

Try Truvia as a natural sugar substitute instead of Sugar or the synthetic Splenda...

honey also works well as a sugar additive thats natural and healthy...you can also add honey to warm muffins instead of butter

honey also works well as a sugar additive that's natural and healthy...you can also add honey to warm muffins instead of butter

experiment with different healthy additions like Flaxseed!

experiment with different healthy additions like Flaxseed!

Some of her key ingredients are low fat buttermilk instead of skim milk, Truvia (an all natural sugar substitute) , wheat flour, oats and honey. Also, you can experiment and add in Flax seeds and all sorts of grain additions to add extra vitamins and minerals to your breakfast. Using spices like nutmeg and cinnamon will also give your muffins flavor without the need for excess filling ingredients. She also uses pretty much all organic ingredients!

Also make sure you do not overcook them for a minute! These healthier ingredients dry quicker and as soon as they are too cooked that’s when you get the cardboard taste…so watch them carefully!

Honey Graham Muffins

1 1/4 c graham cracker crumbs
1/2 c whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 c white flour
1/2 c oatmeal                                           Mix all together in a large bowl
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
3 tbs melted butter (I use light butter)
1/4 c honey
1 egg                                                       Mix all together
1 c buttermilk
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 c raisins                                          Add if desired
Add the liquid ingredients to the dry ingredients until just mixed – don’t overmix!  Spray muffins pans with Pam and bake for 18 minutes at 375.


Applesauce Oatmeal Muffins

1 c whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 c white flour
1/2 c oatmeal
1/4 sugar (I use Truvia-8 packets)            Mix all together in a large bowl
2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1/4 c applesauce
2 tbs oil
1 egg                                                   Mix all together
1 1/2 tsp vanilla

Mix liquid ingredients to dry ingredients and add (optional):
1/2 raisins
1/2 c walnuts

Spray muffin pan with Pam and bake 18 minutes at 375.

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Dwi Pada  this morning out back!

Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana this morning out back!

Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana: “upward facing two-foot staff pose”

Is it just me, or did Monday come extremely quickly this time around?

The gorgeous weather gave me an opportunity to have a jam packed weekend of sailing, yoga and socializing, leaving me a little worn out, dehydrated, and yet extremely content and desiring more weekends like this past one.

It’s Monday’s like these, however, where my mind skips a few mindful moments and heads straight for the following weekend, not appreciating, or opening my heart to the enjoyment i can get out of a normal Monday. I begin  losing a bit of my prana, or life force and motivation, for the week’s tasks.

So this week, I decided to focus on a pose that will give you all something to look forward to practicing, even on a Monday.

It is an advanced modification of a pose I featured last week, and yet it feels surprisingly natural and not as difficult as you would imagine.

Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana, or “upward facing two-foot staff pose”, is a remarkable and yet overlooked pose that many do not get to experience because it is not featured in class often.

The pose may also be called “inverted staff pose” or “headstand backbend”.

There is a fantastic step by step instruction of the pose starting from upward facing bow (or Wheel) pose, chakrasana or urdhva dhanurasana (I featured last week here).

From Chakrasana to Dwi Pada Viparita Dandasana

  • Once up in chakrasana, take a large inhale,  press into your palms and lift your head and shoulders off the ground, placing the crown (top) of your head on the mat. Then lower your elbows to the ground on either side of your head in front of your face, and interlace your hands behind the back of your head.
  • When you feel stable throughout your body, carefully walk your feet away from you while straightening through your legs. If you can, press the soles of your feet firmly into the ground so you can lift your chest and hips higher.
  • Inhale five deep breathes slowly, or even more if you can hold it. When you feel the need to come down from the pose,  then walk your feet back in, place your palms flat on the floor, and lower your hips back to the ground. Bring you knees into your chest in to release your lower back. You can rock back and forth massaging your lower back on the ground.
  • Some great poses to do after this pose are child’s pose, Balasana, downward facing dog, Adho Mukha Svanasana, and some slow spinal seated twists, like Half “Lord of the Fishes” Pose, Ardha Matsyendrasana.

You can also enter this pose through “bound headstand”, but because it is a somewhat challenging pose, I like to enter through chakrasana.

This pose is a “heart opener” and is also wonderful for women’s reproductive systems. It rinses out the spine and strengthens the legs, glutes, back and arms.It relieves coccyx pain and it is a mood enhancer, lifting sad and anxious emotions.

If you couple this pose with sirsasana (which I featured a few weeks ago here) the pose cleanses the mind of negative thinking and has an extreme soothing effect on the brain and emotions.

The pose really brings your prana back in full force, especially on a Monday, when the week is looking extremely long. Samadhi, or bliss, comes easily after the completion of this pose as you come down, releasing all the tension and fear you are holding, especially in your hip flexors, lower back and shoulders.

I like to do this pose as one of the last in my practice. Coming down from it I do a few more poses to stretch my back out, some seated twists, etc. Then  I lie back into savasana and let the pose work on my brain chemistry a bit, letting the endorphins and confidence I get from this pose fully wash over me.

Note: do not try this pose if you have wrist, neck, or back injuries. And remember, do not try this pose for the first time without the guidance of a seasoned yoga teacher. Also, for more info, check of B.K. S. Iyengar’s book “Light on Yoga” available at most book stores and amazon.com.

Now for a treat

perfect smoothie after a long morning yoga practice...recipe below

perfect smoothie after a long morning yoga practice...recipe below

I also like to start off my Mondays, and most summer mornings with a good cleansing smoothie with fruits that are in season. After doing back-bends and twists, eating something easy to digest and that will cleanse your further is a good idea.

The best part about making smoothies is that it allows me to throw in some herbal supplements and extra minerals/vitamins that I normally hate taking on their own, such as Ginkgo and iron. If you buy these supplements in the powder capsule form, just crack open a few into the smoothie and blend!

Watermelon has a remarkable cleansing and detoxification characteristic...especially when already broken down in a smoothie

Watermelon has a remarkable cleansing and detoxification characteristic...especially when already broken down in a smoothie

For a Monday morning, to cleanse further, I use a lot of watermelon because it has a very good detoxification effect.

Freshly shaved ginger root reduces symptons of nausea like a miracle!

Freshly shaved ginger root reduces symptons of nausea like a miracle!

Also, if you feel nauseous often after yoga in the heat, or if you are not used to eating liquid meals, cut up some fresh ginger root and throw it in. It tastes delicious and fresh, while it calms the stomach…a miracle worker!

Here is one of my current smoothie recipes using some summer fruits and some local ingredients…

Alex’s Protein and Fruit Detox Smoothie

(makes about 3 servings)

1/4 cup organic low fat vanilla yogurt

1/2 cup of water

2 cups of ice

1 cup of frozen Cascadian Farm frozen mixed berries

Cascadian organic frozen fruits are by far the bext frozen fruits out there...and trust me, Ive tried a lot of frozen fruit!

Cascadian organic frozen fruits are by far the bext frozen fruits out there...and trust me, I've tried a lot of frozen fruit!

1/2 banana (i save the other half for a snack mid-morning)

1 cup fresh organic local blueberries

a splash of low sugar organic soy milk

1 cup fresh Watermelon

1 tsp. freshly shaved ginger

2 tbsp. protein powder…I like Aria women’s whey and soy protein

Aria womens protein is a great all natural supplement to help build muscles after yoga, especially for vegetarians! Available at any major supermarket

Aria women's protein is a great all natural supplement to help build muscles after yoga, especially for vegetarians! Available at any major supermarket

Vega Smoothie infusion (find it at Whole Foods) is also really delicious!

Vega Smoothie infusion (find it at Whole Foods) is also really delicious!

Also add in Whatever supplements you take for the day… I take a few capsules of Ginkgo, fish oil, and maybe some bone strengthening supplement.

Blend, garnish with some fresh fruit…. and enjoy!

If you have any smoothie recipes you would like to share, e-mail or comment with the recipe and I’ll share it on my blog!

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